Narada Bribery Case: Mamata’s 2 ministers sent to jail
The Calcutta High Court last night stayed the bail granted by a trial court to two senior West Bengal Ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, and ruling TMC legislator Madan Mitra and former Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee.
The four were arrested yesterday morning by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a graft case.
The bail order of the special CBI court in central Kolkata's Bankshall was stayed by the High Court in a hearing held in the evening, when the lower court's relief to the four arrested politicians was challenged by the probe agency.
The four TMC leaders will now be in jail custody till the next hearing on Wednesday.
The arrested leaders were produced at Bankshall Court through a virtual hearing from the local CBI head office at Nizam Palace in south Kolkata earlier in the evening and were granted bail.
The CBI then moved to the Calcutta High Court, challenging the move. The bail orders were then stayed.
Earlier in the day, soon after the arrests took place, hundreds of TMC activists took out protest rallies in the city and elsewhere in West Bengal, flouting Covid lockdown guidelines.
In a sharp escalation in the face-off between BJP-led central government and Mamata Banerjee's dispensation in West Bengal, the CBI arrested the four in connection with a five-year-old case relating to a news portal's sting operation on alleged bribery.
A CBI team, along with central security forces, picked the four up from their homes.
According to the CBI, Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee and Madan Mitra were caught on camera accepting wads of currency notes in the sting operation conducted by the news portal's Editor-in-Chief Mathew Samuel from New Delhi in 2014. The video tapes were released ahead of assembly elections in the state in 2016.
Infuriated, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reached the CBI office in Kolkata's Nizam Palace and reportedly said, "The way they have been arrested without due procedure, the CBI will have to arrest me also."
Mamata also held a six-hour sit-in in front of the CBI DIG's office on the 14th floor of Nizam Palace.
As Mamata staged the sit-in, hundreds of TMC workers gathered at Nizam Palace in South Kolkata, despite the ongoing state-wide lockdown due to the rising Covid cases, and hurled stones and bricks protesting against the arrest of three senior TMC leaders.
The TMC activists, many without masks, also staged protests outside the Raj Bhavan, the official residence of Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar, in Dalhousie Square in central Kolkata, protesting the arrests of Hakim, Mukherjee and Mitra. Reports of street protests by TMC workers also came in from several other parts of Bengal.
Dhankar earlier this month gave permission to CBI for prosecution of Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee.
Referring to the street protests shown on TV channels, Dhankar accused Kolkata Police and West Bengal police of being "mute onlookers" and appealed to them to act and restore law and order.
"[This is] total lawlessness & anarchy. Police and administration are silent. Hope you [they and the people] realise the repercussions of such lawlessness and failure of constitutional mechanism. Time to reflect and contain this explosive situation that is worsening every minute," Dhankar tweeted.
Hakim and Mukherjee are currently ministers in Mamata's cabinet with Transport, Urban and Housing and Panchayati Raj portfolios respectively. Mitra was not included in the cabinet of ministries after the TMC had a landslide victory in the recent assembly poll.
Sovan Chatterjee snapped his ties with both the TMC and Bharatiya Janata Party, which he had joined in 2019.
All four arrested yesterday were ministers in the previous Mamata Banerjee government, when the Narada sting operation was taped in 2014.
Mathew Samuel, a journalist from Delhi came to Kolkata, posed as a businessman planning to invest in Bengal and gave cash to seven Trinamool MPs, four ministers, one MLA and a police officer as bribe and taped the entire operation.
West Bengal Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee said the arrest of Hakim, Mukherjee and Mitra in the Narada case on the basis of the Governor's sanction was "unlawful."
"I have not received any letter from the CBI, nor has anybody sought permission from me as per the protocol… I do not know for what unknown reason they went to the Governor and sought his sanction."
The CBI filed the charge sheet against five accused, including three TMC leaders arrested earlier in the day, in the Narada sting case wherein politicians were purportedly caught taking money on camera, officials said.
The sting operation was allegedly conducted by Mathew Samuel of Narada TV news channel in 2014 wherein people resembling TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were allegedly seen receiving money from representatives of a fictitious company in lieu of favours.
The tapes were made public just before the 2016 assembly elections in West Bengal.
The Calcutta High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the sting operation in March 2017.
Samuel yesterday said he was happy that the four politicians were arrested in the case relating to his sting operation but questioned why Suvendu Adhikari was spared by the CBI because he too figured in the case.
Suvendu, who was at that time in TMC, joined BJP in December last year and is now the leader of opposition in the Bengal assembly.